Renowned Swiss psychiatrist named Gottlieb Burckhardt was responsible for conducting the first ever psychosurgery case documented in human history. Conducted in 1888, the procedure attracted controversy. The psychiatrist claimed that the surgery worked on fifty percent of his patients.

Although, due to a lot of public pressure and criticism from medical colleagues, he had to stop performing these procedures for a long period.

However, he did start doing these surgeries again starting from the 1930s. Once he resumed, he started documenting his cases because of their high success rate, soon after which the surgery became an accepted procedure in different parts of the world.

Starting from the late years in the 1930s to the mid of 1970s, more than 100,000 lobotomies/psychosurgeries took place in different parts of the world.

People who performed these procedures needed to have a plethora of knowledge regarding how the human anatomy works. Not only this, but they also needed experience to get the procedure right. Small mistakes during a lobotomy could turn things sideways in a matter of seconds.

Therefore, only the people who had abundance of patience, dexterity in both hands, and the courage to take responsibility of the procedure could conduct these psychosurgeries.

Suffice to say, with thousands of lobotomy cases in the record books, there were some that became famous due to their unique natures. In this article, we will discuss the ones that shocked the whole world.

Before we proceed, you may be wondering why the name of Frances Farmer is not mentioned in this list. Well the thing is, there is no proof about whether Frances ever took part in a lobotomy. The person who made the allegations later on admitted during a court proceeding that he was not telling the truth.

Here are 10 notable lobotomies that are spine-chilling.

10 Helen Mortensen

Helen Mortensen was a patient of Dr. Walter Freeman.  Helen visited the doctor in 1967. Helen was among the first trans-orbital patients that the doctor had in 1946. After her initial treatments, she faced a major relapse in the psychiatric symptoms that she had. Doctor Freeman was responsible for her first operation and it seemed like a success in the beginning.

However, after the relapse occurred in 1956, Freeman once again performed the operation on Helen. Once again, the operation worked fine and bought about positive results in the patient as the doctor made a few tweaks and shifts from the previous procedure.

After a few years of productive brain functioning, Mortensen returned to the doctor for another lobotomy. Freeman agreed and performed the surgery. However, unlike the previous two surgeries, things went wrong with this one as Walter severed a vessel in the patient’s brain. This caused Mortensen’s death three days after the surgery.

Because of this, the hospital where Walter Freeman worked revoked his surgical privileges causing him to retire after a few years. Walter was one of the most respected psychosurgeons in the world as he performed close to 4000 lobotomies in more than twenty states. He performed more than two thousand lobotomies using his patented ice pick procedure.



9 Rosemary Kennedy

Most of Rosemary Kennedy’s family members considered her retarded. However, many psychotherapists argued otherwise. All of them had varying opinions regarding her mental condition.

Some thought that although she was not as bright as most of her family members, she definitely had a fully functional brain. This became more evident when they learned that she lived an active social life and maintained a day-to-day diary.

Rosemary’s family members noted that her personality often got too stormy and that she had violent mood turns. Some people claimed that this was because of her overly active siblings.

During 1941, Rosemary’s doctors told her father that there was a new surgical procedure that would help calm her daughter down and eliminate her mood swings as well. After careful thought and deliberation, her father gave his permission. The doctor proposed a prefrontal lobotomy for Rosemary Kennedy.

Once the procedure was complete and Rosemary went home, her family noticed that she became a shell of her former self. She did nothing but stare at doors and walls for long periods.

There was also a significant decline in her verbal skills. Instead of saying intelligible words, all she could utter was unintelligible babble. Rosemary’s family later on admitted her to a renowned institution. Rosemary died at the age of 86 in 2005.

8 Alice Hood Hammat

Alice Hood Hammat’s case gained quite a bit of popularity as it was the first ever prefrontal lobotomy case conducted in the United States. It took place in 1936 where Doctor James Watts and Doctor Walter Freeman performed a prefrontal lobotomy on their 63-year old patient Alice Hood Hammat.

The doctors began the surgery making three cm long incisions after which they used a drill to make holes inside Alice’s skull. The surgeons made holes on her right frontal lobe and left frontal lobe.

This particular operation was more complex than other lobotomy cases that the doctors performed. It lasted almost an hour.

A few months after the surgery, Alice suffered from a convulsion, which likely occurred because of the surgery. Despite the convulsion, she lived a relatively healthy life with reduced panic and anxiety.

She even managed to stay away from mental hospitals. Her husband was more than satisfied with the procedure and went on to stay that her behavior took a complete 360 turn. Alice died at the age of 68 after contracting pneumonia.

7 Howard Dully

Howard Dully’s case gained popularity because he was the youngest person to undergo a lobotomy. He was 12 years old when he went through the procedure.

His stepmother bought in Howard Dully, as she believed that he was too defiant. He never wanted to go to bed and always sat down and daydreamed.

His stepmother went to Doctor Freeman who suggested her procedure known as transorbital lobotomy. It would completely change Howard’s personality if she agreed to follow through with the procedure.

She managed to convince her husband that a surgical procedure would be the best course of action for their son.

Once her husband agreed, the parents gave the doctors the go-ahead. The surgery did not go well for Dully. It took a massive toll on his mind and body. He faced arrest, institutionalization, and later on became homeless and addicted to alcohol. It took him a long period to recover.

Fortunately, Dully became sober and got a college degree. He even went on to get a steady job as a certified instructor in a renowned school bus company.

During his mid-fifties, Dully went on a 2-year journey to learn about his childhood. He had vague recollections of it and wanted to find what had really happened. He spoke with his relatives, family members, and other patients on whom doctor Freeman performed surgeries.

6 Warner Baxter

In case you do not know, Warner Baxter was a famous American actor who won an Academy award for this performance in the movie “Old Arizona”. He was the highest paid Hollywood actor by 1936.He went on to make more than one hundred films starting from 1914 to 1950.

Unfortunately, Baxter developed severe arthritis in the latter part of his life. In that period of time, a large number of people opted for lobotomy to get relief from the constant agony of pain. His arthritis became painful to the point that he took someone’s bad advice of opting for a lobotomy.

He followed through with that advice and went under the knife. Although there were no complications during the surgery, Baxter contracted pneumonia, which ultimately proved to be the cause of his death.

5 Alys Robi

This is another famous celebrity in this list of famous lobotomies. Alys Robi’s real name is Alice Robitaille. She was a renowned actor and singer and had been in the entertainment business since she was young.

She was just seven years of age during her first performance. Life was going really well for Alys until she was 25 years old when she fell victim to a horrific car accident. The accident caused her to go into severe depression.

She managed to get out of her depression after falling in love with someone. However, the romance failed and caused her to have a severe mental breakdown.

The breakdown was so severe that Alys’s family members had no other choice but to admit her into an asylum in Quebec City. Things did not get better for Alys in the asylum as her mental condition continued to deteriorate even further.

The doctors had no other choice but to perform a lobotomy on her. They did not think that it would work but did it any way as they were running out of options.

Miraculously, Alys’s case proved to be one of the biggest success stories in the history of lobotomy. She made a full recovery and even went on to perform on stage. However, Alys was never able to regain her former glory as she did have frequent episodes of mental illnesses.

4 Sigrid Hjerten

Sigrid Hjerten was a modernist painter from Sweden. He was married to a renowned expressionist painter named Isaac Grunewald. The couple often organized their exhibition together locally and in various other countries where people appreciated paintings. Hjerten had an unfortunate history of various mental health issues, requiring her to stay in the hospital for months.

This happened quite frequently and deteriorated Hjerten’s mental as well as physical condition as she aged. The disease eventually forced her to stop painting. Eventually, her mental health problems became so gruesome that she had to stay at the hospital. Her husband divorced her and went on to marry his mistress.

During her time at the hospital, Hjerten’s mental state continued to get worse. The doctors at the hospital decided to perform a lobotomy in hopes to improve her condition. Unfortunately, however, the doctors botched the lobotomy, which led to Sigrid Hjerten’s death.

3 Sallie Ellen Ionesco

This is another one of Doctor Walter Freeman’s patients. Sallie Ellen Ionesco was the first person lobotomized through Doctor Freeman’s ice pick procedure. Ionesco was just 29 when she started having suicidal thoughts. She became more and more unhinged as time went by. It forced Doctor Freeman to render her unconscious with the help of electroshock.

Once Sallie was unconscious, doctor Freeman, entered an ice pick over the patient’s eyeball by banging it through the eye socket, forcing the pick’s way inside her brain.

He then twisted and swirled the pick to scramble Sallie’s neural connections. The procedure went on to be a rare success despite the patient losing some of her memories.

Sally lived a fairly intact and normal life. She died in 2007 and was living proof that lobotomies did actually work.

2 Rose Isabel Williams

Rose was born a couple of years prior to her brother. The siblings grew up and became quite close. At the age of eighteen, Rose was involved in numerous failed romances, which made her feel unloved. As she grew older, her mother started to notice that her behavior was becoming too erratic. Because of this, she decided to send Rose to Vicksburg to receive her education.

Later on however, Rose’s mental condition showed no sign of improvements. It eventually led her to become a paranoid schizophrenic for which she was committed in a hospital. Doctors tried various forms of therapies to improve Rose’s condition but nothing worked

After a lot of convincing from the doctors, Rose’s mother sanctioned a prefrontal lobotomy that ultimately caused Rose to lose most of her personality. The mother and brother were full of guilt and remorse and even developed ill feelings towards each other due to Rose’s pitiful condition.

1 H.M. (Henry Molaison)

A young individual who only went by the initials H.M was one severely injured in a cycle accident. It caused a massive fracture on his skull that seemed to be irreparable.

The injury caused him to suffer from terrible seizures day in and day out, making his life more miserable as each day passed. This young man sought the help of one Doctor William Scoville. This particular doctor was gaining quite a bit of popularity back then because of his successful fractional lobotomies.

This lobotomy form was becoming famous because it did not damage as much tissue as other forms of lobotomy. It also helped the patients retained their original personalities, something that could not be said about other forms of lobotomy at that time.

While operating on H.M,  the doctor removed a few parts from his brain. The operation was a success and reduced H.M’s seizures significantly. There was also a noticeable improvement in his I.Q. However, the downside was that he was not able to create new memories.

This led H.M to go back to his parents and spend the rest of his life with them. He mostly worked odd jobs and often forgot how and why he was working there.

His perception of time also changed and according to the doctor, five minutes for H.M only lasted for thirty to forty seconds. All things considered, H.M lived a relatively healthy life and passed away at the age of 82 due to a heart attack. 

History is full of tons of lobotomy cases. These cases were particularly interesting because of the unique circumstances and individuals involved in it. Many people believed that lobotomies were just a fad; however, some of the cases proved that they indeed worked although the patients did end up losing some chucks of their personality and memory.

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